As one of the most well-known voices on country music radio today, Kelly Ford has been entertaining listeners for years with her humor and wit.
With stints in her hometown of Louisville, then in Denver and New York City, she planted roots almost a year ago in Nashville, aka Music City, USA, where she's been waking up fans alongside her male co-hosts Ty Bentli and country music artist Chuck Wicks with their nationally syndicated morning show, Ty, Kelly and Chuck on Nash 94.7 FM.
Despite the fact the country music industry has been portrayed as mostly male-dominated, that hasn't stopped Ford from moving forward and continuing the conversation. She's interviewed some of the biggest names in the business and was part of the team that brought the genre back to New York City which had been missing a country radio station for so long.
“What's awesome about New York listeners is they are choosing to listen to country and in many cases defending it while doing so with the passion of a New Yorker," says Ford. “Even a country artist will tell you that there is nothing like the fans there, they are off the hook."
Photo Courtesy of Ashley Hylbert
And while this Southern girl might still be able to walk into a few places unrecognized, once she starts talking her distinctive voice is a clear giveaway to listen up. She's not only living out her dream, she's paving the way for other young women to follow.
SWAAY sat down with the high-profile Ford to talk all things country, including the emergence of women in the industry, how social media has changed the game, along with some favorite spots in her colorful city.
As a woman in this business do you think it's harder to make a name for yourself as a radio DJ?
I have never been one to dwell on it, I've just forged ahead. Clearly, the playing field is not equal and has largely been a male-dominated industry for a while but I believe that's slowly changing. I think in a genre like this, it's reflecting society, and the roles of men and women are changing. My husband and I both have big jobs but he never thought his dream was more important than mine; we just figured things out as we went along.
Forbes magazine published an article in regards to the gender gap; when looking at the genre are there more female powerhouses taking over country in 2017?
It's a continuous battle but I do believe it's changing. Like everything else you have to get out there and the advice I give all young woman, including my daughter, is to get out there and prove yourself. If you dwell on it, not much is going to change.Miranda [Lambert] was in the studio recently and is probably the most recent person to bring up the ongoing efforts to make it more equitable [for women] and not fall into the notion that women want to hear a man, not a woman. She said on air, “You bet it's sexist" but the more people who step up and say that's not the way they want it the more it will change.
Miranda Lambert with Kelly Ford
Do you foresee a change in the near future?
I am extremely hopeful for this generation coming up; I see it in my daughter and my sons who are in college. There is a self-confidence and a self-awareness that I don't think I had when I was their age. Maybe my efforts are paying off even though I didn't know I was carrying the banner. I am a big believer that you can't dwell on what's wrong but focus on what's right; it's hard to deny success.
I want to help further young women any way I can. I grew up with sisters, went to an all-girls Catholic school and appreciate all that women have done in my life. Without those role models, I wouldn't have been able to become the person who just went for it. I never thought I couldn't do something because I was a woman.
This past summer you won a Gracie Award for Best Co-Host. What did winning that award mean to you?I am so grateful to have been able to reinvent myself after being in one market for so long; it goes to show you can do anything you want. For me, that win was everything and to be with a [male] team that I adore and encourages collaboration and isn't afraid to let me shine is a great demonstration of teamwork. And to be recognized separately for that part means everything. There is nothing more fulfilling than to have a group of women say hey, we are with you and we support you. It's a big part of what motivates me.
This wasn't your first award; what's it like to be recognized for the job you love doing?
It's a great feeling and I'm proud of it but more so as a woman, I hope it inspires others. But you have to keep it in check because if you believe all the good press you'll have to believe all the bad. I keep it in check but it's super-cool.
You've said social media has changed your life as a radio personality; in what way has that been true?
Social media adds a layer to you as a person and I think you can get a good sense of someone based on what they choose to post as well as what they chose not to. It's a connection that I can't necessarily add on the air because of time restraints. I am a freakish extrovert so for me to be able to connect is awesome. I didn't love the old school way where people just listen to the announcer; my favorite thing is interacting with others.
Do you feel social media is a game changer when it comes to advancing your career?
Yes most definitely. You're building your brand and the more I increase my brand and the trust with the people who listen to me, hopefully, I'll be creating a long time connection.
Nashville is ranked one of the top destinations to travel right now. What are you enjoying most about the city?
It's accessible yet not overwhelming. Broadway is only a few blocks long and you can find all you need in one place. There's live music in every bar and you never know who might show up. Here, everyone is a songwriter and it's a place that appeals to everyone who has a dream. And it's not just country music, it's become music city with a cool vibe. It's just enough cosmopolitan to make it sophisticated but enough homegrown to make you feel like you're visiting family and friends.
When looking to unwind where do you go?The woods here are spectacular and there are some great places to go hiking such as Lake Radnor and Percy Warner Park. I love rooftop bars; there's one that recently opened at the Thompson Hotel. When I'm missing New York it makes me feel cosmopolitan and chic. I love going to Cochon Butcher in Germantown [one of the city's historic neighborhoods.] And I love a good flea market. Once a month there is an amazing one at the Nashville fairgrounds where you can not only discover great finds but meet the most wonderful people with such great stories.
Finish this sentence, I am passionate about…
Anything that moves the needle!
Marriage can be a tightrope act: when everything is in balance, it is bliss and you feel safe, but once things get shaky, you are unsure about next steps. Add outside forces into the equation like kids, work, finances or a personal crisis and now there's a strong chance that you'll need extra support to keep you from falling.
My husband and I are no strangers to misunderstandings, which are expected in any relationship, but after 7 years of marriage, we were really being tested on how strong our bond was and it had nothing to do with the "7-year itch"--it was when I was diagnosed with PTSD. As a survivor of child sexual abuse who is a perfectionist, I felt guilty about not being the "perfect partner" in our relationship; frustrated that I might be triggered while being intimate; and worried about being seen as broken or weak because of panic attacks. My defense mechanism is to not need anyone, yet my biggest fear is often abandonment.
I am not a trained therapist or relationship expert, but since 2016, I have learned a lot about managing survivorship and PTSD triggers while being in a heterosexual marriage, so I am now sharing some of my practical relationship advice to the partners of survivors to support my fellow female survivors who may be struggling to have a stronger voice in their relationship. Partners of survivors have needs too during this process, but before those needs can be met, they need to understand how to support their survivor partner, and it isn't always an easy path to navigate.
To my fellow survivor sisters in romantic relationships, I write these tips from the perspective of giving advice to your partner, so schedule some quality time to talk with your boo and read these tips together.
I challenge you both to discuss if my advice resonates with you or not! Ultimately, it will help both of you develop an open line of communication about needs, boundaries, triggers and loving one another long-term.
1. To Be or Not to Be Sexy: Your survivor partner probably wants to feel sexy, but is ambivalent about sex. She was a sexual object to someone else and that can wreak havoc on her self-esteem and intimate relationships. She may want you to find her sexy and yet not want to actually be intimate with you. Talk to her about her needs in the bedroom, what will make her feel safe, what will make her feel sexy but not objectified, and remind her that you are attracted to her for a multitude or reasons--not just because of her physical appearance.
2. Safe Words = Safer Sex: Believe it or not, your partner's mind is probably wondering while you are intimate (yep, she isn't just thinking about how amazing you are, ha!). Negative thoughts can flash through her mind depending on her body position, things you say, how she feels, etc. Have a word that you agree on that she can say if she needs a break. It could be as simple as "pause," but it needs to be respected and not questioned so that she knows when it is used, you won't assume that you can sweet talk her into continuing. This doesn't have to be a bedroom only rule. Daytime physical touch or actions could warrant the safe word, as well.
3. Let Her Reconnect: Both partners need attention in a relationship, but sometimes a survivor is distracted. Maybe she was triggered that day, feels sad or her defense mechanisms are up because you did something to upset her and you didn't even know it (and she doesn't know how to explain what happened). If she is distant, ask her if she needs some time alone. Maybe she does, maybe she doesn't, but acknowledging that you can sense some internal conflict will go a long way. Sometimes giving her the space to reconnect with herself before expecting her to be able to focus on you/your needs is just what she needs to be reminded that she is safe and loved in this relationship.
4. Take the 5 Love Languages(r) Test: If you haven't read this book yet or taken the test, please at the very least take the free quiz to learn your individual love language. My top love language was Touch and Words of Affirmation before remembering my abuse and thereafter it became Acts of Service and Words of Affirmation. Knowing how your survivor partner prefers to be shown love goes a long way and it will in turn help your needs be met, as they might be different.
5. Be Patient: I know it might be frustrating at times and you can't possibly totally understand what your survivor partner is going through, but patience goes a long way. If your survivor partner is going through the early stages of PTSD, she feels like a lot of her emotional well-being is out of her control. Panic attacks are scary and there are triggers everywhere in society. For example, studies have shown that sexual references are made anywhere from 8 to 10 times during one hour of prime time television (source: Journal of Broadcasting & Electronic Media). My husband is now on high alert when we watch TV and film. He quickly paused a Game of Thrones episode when we started season 2 because he realized a potentially violent sexual scene was coming up, and ultimately we turned it off and never watched the series again. He didn't make a big deal about it and I was relieved.
6. Courage to Heal, Together: The Courage to Heal book has been around for many years and it supported me well during the onset of my first flashbacks of my abuse. At the back of the book is a partners section for couples to read together. I highly recommend it so that you can try to understand from a psychological, physical and emotional stand point what your survivor partner is grappling with and how the two of you can support one another on the path of healing and enjoying life together.